Balnuaran of Clava
The Clava Cairns – or more correctly Balnuaran of Clava – is one of the best preserved Bronze Age burial sites in Scotland. There are three cairns here, two with passage ways aligned to the Midwinter sunset, and all with more subtle features, incorporated to reflect the importance of the South-west horizon.
The site consist of 3 small, relatively well preserved burial chambers, aligned on a North-east to South-west axis. Each cairn consists of a multitude of large water-worn pebbles and boulders, piled in a bun shape, with an outer kerb of larger stones, around which stands a stone circle. The two outer cairns have passages to a central chamber aligned South-west to the Midwinter sun, while the central cairn has only an inner chamber with no connecting passage.
The cairns are thought to date from the late Neolithic period, and this type of cairn seems to be a style developed in this part of Scotland, which are collectively known as Clava Cairns. Unlike the larger Neolithic tombs found in other parts of the country, it seems that the tombs at Clava were not used over a long period of time for a large community, rather evidence suggests that they were preserved for more elite members of a tribe. Perhaps a ruling caste or priesthood.
Some of the large boulders which make up the outer facing of the cairns have been carved with enigmatic cup and ring markings. The true purpose and meaning of these carvings is unknown, and it has been suggested that the cup marked stones may actually date from an earlier period of history, the site being re-used because of its importance. Examining the carved stones it is easy to see that they must have been carved before they were incorporated into the fabric of the cairns. Other more subtle features were incorporated into the construction of the tombs. The kerb stones are graded in size towards the South-west and the Midwinter sun, with the largest facing towards that direction. This grading is also true of the surrounding standing stones. The stones may even be colour graded, as it seems that the more colourful stones also lie to the South-west of the tombs. This attention to geometric detail suggests that the tombs were constructed as part of a larger plan with bias towards the South-west horizon. There may be other subtle landscape features incorporated into the site, which have not yet been discovered.
The site was excavated in 1828, 1857, and in the 1950’s. The early excavations revealed small shards of pottery, bones and flint flakes, and later excavations revealed human bones – some of which were cremated – in each of the outer tombs.
Directions: On a minor road off the B9006 from Inverness.